Apparently Tillich is imminently quotable... and worth the read. This week's High Gravity group explored Paul Tillich's "God above God" in the face of radical doubt and a religionless Christianity: "The God who is absent is present as the source of restlessness." Here's another: "The separation of the holy from the secular is a symptom of man's estrangement from himself." Thinking through these quotes you quickly understand my intrigue. Here are some more quotes that I've more-or-less have culled from readings and restated in mine own fashion:
- Like any man, atheism tries to transcend the religious images of God by removing the crimes and misery religion has caused mankind. Seeking critical honesty in the face of religious traditions. But once indoctrinated, a religious man cannot break from his symbolic past, finding it hard to see the God he would love.
- Ideally, Christian theology is able to show in its own symbolism the truth about the God above God. If not, we are left with beggarly images of the God we think we know.
- The presence of spiritual restlessness, ache, doubt, all is due to God's presence in this life.
- God is the God of all - to both the secular man as to the religious man, each lost in their own turns.
- Impossibly, we cannot resist to image God. Images which confuse His Being and Meaning whenever we do. The paradox of God is that this God is above all we would think and worship. For God is not an object. His being transcends the world of objects as well as every subject. And so must our images of God likewise be transcended lest we fail in our sight of our Creator-Redeemer.
You can see my intrigue by the statements above. And by saying less in today's post I hope to say more by allowing you, the reader, to think on these things. At-the-last, I leave with you an example of a fellow Christian caught-in-the-turns of a symbolic, relational Christianity that both fails and heals as best as it can in this brief life of ours.
Overall, my encourage is in knowing that our God is ever present in our lives. That He Himself is restless in joining our lives with His own. That goodness and light, life and love, should never be dimmed in the presence of evil we see everywhere abounding. Evil that rejects God, harms others, and states "Thus I have done, let it not be undone" in shouts against the divine will so patient, so open, so restless to bring judgment and justice to our world of woe.
July 12, 2013
by Michael Hildago
Issue 64: July/August 2013, Relevant Magazine
Several years ago, I left the Church.
My wife and I were deeply wounded by our closest friends and partners in ministry, rumors about us spread like wildfire and we felt abandoned. I said goodbye to God and the Church and, it was safe to say, I was never coming back. I thought the Church was a broken institution.
A year before that, I was a pastor. My congregation was filled with people who loved Jesus and had a passion to see His renewal come to this broken world. I never tired of hearing stories of brokenness followed by experiences of healing. Our belief was simple: the Church should be the last place you should find people who pretend to have it all together. I was having the church experience many people are blessed to have in their lives: one that was vibrant and exciting.
I didn’t know that not everyone agreed with my mind-set, and a few did all they could to ensure I would not be a pastor at that church for long. One morning, I was told I had to resign. As I looked around the room, I saw people who were more than friends—they were family. One of those in that meeting used to tell me I was “like a son” to him. But now, as one leader told me, I was simply “an issue that needed to be dealt with.”
There was no warning and no conversation; just a severance agreement I had to sign or else I’d get nothing. So I did. What followed was one of the most painful seasons of my life.
I walked out of that church, and no one from its leadership team ever reached out to my family again. Apparently their “issue” had been dealt with. But it wasn’t over for me. Our community, my career and our future with the church were all suddenly severed, and my wife and I were devastated. We’d had such a strong sense of spiritual purpose, and now we had no idea what to do with our lives. For years, I had met people who had been “hurt by the Church.” Now, I was one of them.
We are everywhere
The saddest part in all of this is my story is not unique. Many of us have had painful experiences with the Church, Christian ministries, organizations or universities.
My friend Rick worked at a Christian university for more than 15 years. He quickly became one of the most beloved and popular professors at the school. For many students, he served in a pastoral role, offering godly guidance. Rick challenged the comfortable Christianity of many students and invited them to truly make faith in Jesus their own.
Yet as his popularity with students grew, the concern of the trustees regarding Rick grew, as well. They believed his teaching went against the doctrinal statement of the college and even raised questions about his political viewpoints. After Rick had spent years giving everything to that university and caring for students, the trustees fired him without ever seeking to clarify what he believed or taught.
The people in the Church are broken, but we serve a Christ who is making all things whole.
Students protested, alumni wrote letters on his behalf, many called and emailed, asking the trustees to rethink their decision, but nothing worked. Rick was out, without so much as a “thank you” from the trustees of the university where he invested in the lives of so many. He told me he felt like “his heart was ripped out his chest.”
My friend Julie went through an experience where she felt totally rejected by Christian leaders. Her husband, Dan, was an alcoholic. As much as she begged him to get help, he never did. He believed he couldn’t talk about it because he worked for a Christian ministry. He knew if he told anyone of his addiction, he would be immediately fired.
After years of pleading with him to no avail, Julie found out Dan had been diagnosed with an inoperable tumor. Within months, his health deteriorated and he passed away. Julie finally opened up about Dan’s addiction to those in the organization where he worked. She was shocked at their response: They wanted nothing to do with her.
In her greatest time of need, those she had considered friends ignored her and gossiped about her and Dan. She had spent years suffering in her marriage, and now, after her husband died, she suffered more. The people she believed she could trust rejected her—all this from those who worked for a Christian organization.
These are not just stories. These are people like you and me. And we are everywhere—all of us wounded, not by the Church or a ministry, but by others who identify as Christians.
It’s Not the church that hurts you
Recently, a young man named Ryan told me how much he “hated the Church” because of how “the Church hurt his parents.” I met a woman named Melissa after one of our Sunday morning services. It was her first time in a church in more than six years. She said, “I was so hurt by the ministry I worked for.”
Speaking this way allows “the Church,” a ministry or a university to remain a faceless, impersonal organization. But a faceless, impersonal organization can’t hurt us the way friends and family can. The Church did not wound me, Rick was not fired by his university and Julie was not rejected by an organization.
The reality is, it’s not the Church that has hurt us. It is the people we loved and trusted, whom we associate with “the Church” to make it less personal, less painful. And yet that’s why it hurts so much—you can’t get hurt by someone you don’t love.
If I had been conspired against by someone I did not know, I could have dealt with it. It would not have been personal. But I believed these people to be my closest friends—people I had worked alongside, people with whom I had shared life.
Those we love the most give us our deepest wounds. And when those who wound us are connected with the Church or a ministry, it’s easy to depersonalize the injury by attributing it to the entire institution.
The longer we hold on to those feelings of hatred and the more we speak of being hurt only by an organization, the less chance we have of actually addressing our wounds. The best thing we can do is speak honestly about what happened—which can be the hardest part of healing.
It’s not easy to speak of our pain and the names of those who caused it. At times, it can feel like we are reliving the entire experience. However, if we are to find healing and return to wholeness, this is exactly what we must do. Healing and forgiveness will find it’s way into the cracks in our heart where truth is present and spoken.
This kind of honesty is truly terrifying. When we share our pain and open up our wounds with the truth, we take the chance of being hurt again. For, in those moments, we place our trust in another. Therein lies the risk. But in the risk lies the chance for healing; and not just healing for us, but healing for others, too.
Becoming the Hands and Feet
Years ago when Julie’s friends rejected her, she spoke of her wounds and those who caused them. Now, by the grace and goodness of God, she is able to speak of her wounds and the God who has healed them. It’s the same for Rick and for me, too.
It’s not because we are anything special. Rather, it’s because we met others who had been wounded, and they helped us find healing. They were the ones who came alongside us and helped every step of the way. One might say they were like Jesus for us in our time of need.
When God saw the suffering and pain in our world, He sent His Son headlong into it to suffer with us. God could have done anything He wanted in response to the mess humanity got itself into. He could have snapped His fingers and made everything better or, with a wave of His hand, banished all evil from the world, allowing only good to flourish.
But He didn’t do any of that.
God’s decision was to share in our wounds, take up our pain and bear our sorrow. It’s in the suffering of Jesus that we find our hope. The God who suffered on the cross for us is the same God who suffers with us today. Because of this, we have the opportunity to be like God for those who are wounded.
If you’ve been wounded, betrayed, stabbed in the back or victimized, in that very moment, you look more like Jesus than you did before.
This is what Paul was getting at when he called the Church the “body of Christ.” We are the embodiment of God in this world. There are some who describe being the body of Christ by saying “we are his hands and feet.” I can think of no better description—especially when we are hurt ourselves.
Jesus’ hands and feet bear the marks of crucifixion—which means if you’ve been wounded, betrayed, stabbed in the back or victimized, in that very moment, you look more like Jesus than you did before. Our scars allow us to be more like Jesus to others and lead them toward healing.
The Church is not a bunch of people who have it all together. It’s a bunch of broken and bruised people who know about getting hurt and causing hurt themselves. But it’s also people who know about healing. And while we should never diminish the seriousness of our pain, it’s in our pain that we encounter the suffering servant who died for us. It’s in our pain and our healing from that pain that others can find hope.
Perhaps this is why Rick Warren tweeted recently, “I only hire staff who’ve been hurt deeply. People who’ve never suffered tend to be shallow and smug about other’s pain.” Our pain is the very thing that allows us to share in the pain of others and their journeys to healing. Because when you have scars and someone shares their wounds with you, it makes you weep.
When others shared in my pain, they didn’t always have amazing wisdom or brilliant insight. They didn’t quote the perfect verse at the perfect moment. Many times, they struggled to find the right words for encouragement. But they bore scars that spoke of their pain and, most importantly, of God’s grace and goodness that healed them. And I learned that was often the only thing I needed.
Finding Healing in the Brokenness
Years after swearing I would never return to the Church, I have not just returned—I am a pastor. And, as a pastor, I can say that the people in the Church are certainly broken, but we serve a Christ who is making all things whole. And because He is making all things whole, the institution of the Church is alive and well. Surely only our God could orchestrate such a paradox—a broken people being sustained and built and re-created into something whole.
Because the building of the Church is Christ’s alone, we know His work is not broken. This is what we affirm and celebrate every time we participate in communion. We remember that the Church was birthed in the broken body and spilled blood of Jesus. He was broken for broken people. This is the mystery of the Eucharist: Our wholeness is found in Christ’s brokenness. God knew the Church would live in this tension, this paradox, and yet be a place where He is still King.
And so, Jesus took the bread and the wine and said, “This is my body broken for you and my blood shed for you.” And when we eat the bread and drink the wine, we not only remember His death, but we also participate in being broken open and poured out for our broken world.